BOSTON -- Though John Lackey has always been brash -- he is from Texas, after all -- his personality may have been a bit more pronounced on the night of Oct. 27, 2002. That was the night that Lackey, fresh off his 24th birthday and in his rookie season with the Angels, shut down the Giants in Game 7 of the World Series.
Now, one win away from another title, this one with the Red Sox, Lackey scoffed when asked about 2002 on the eve of Game 6 at Fenway Park.
"That was a long time ago, man," Lackey said. "I don't think that's going to play much into tomorrow."
On some level, though, the Sox must hope that it does. Lackey may be a different pitcher now -- a stronger, more complete pitcher in many ways -- but he remains the same breed of gunslinger that he was back then. Lackey fears no team, least of all a group of Cardinals with their respective backs up against the Green Monster. So there are not many men the Red Sox would rather have on the mound come Wednesday's first pitch at 8:07 p.m. ET (7:30 p.m. air time on FOX).
"He's been there before," teammate Ryan Dempster said. "He started Game 7 of the World Series as a rookie, so John Lackey is no stranger to big-game situations. We're glad that we have him on our side."
In ticking off Lackey's recent World Series accomplishments, Dempster mentioned the 6 1/3 innings of three-run ball he gave the Red Sox in Game 2, walking off the mound with a lead. He also referenced the scoreless inning of relief Lackey delivered in Game 4 in St. Louis, attacking the Cardinals with 17 pitches on his throwing day.
If that outing cast any doubt over his availability for a potentially Series-clinching Game 6, Lackey made certain to immediately and unequivocally shove it aside.
"Oh, I'll be there," he said in Game 4's aftermath.
Lackey has already been here so often, in the biggest of games. With six Octobers and 18 postseason stat lines on the back of his baseball card, he has amassed more career playoff innings -- 97 1/3 -- than Cardinals counterpart Michael Wacha has in his entire big league career.
He's been around long enough, in other words, to understand that experience does not always matter. Lackey personally proved that much throughout his rookie playoff run, and Wacha has done so during his own similar run, becoming the 17th pitcher to win at least four games in a single postseason.
Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter joked on Monday that Wacha has "his own highlight tape before [throwing] innings out there in the World Series," lauding the rookie's "humbleness and his ability to work."
"It's been exciting to watch," Cards manager Mike Matheny said of Wacha, 22, another Texas product. "Michael's done a nice job. We just want him to really not focus on the big picture of what exactly is going on. What we want him to do is go out, make one pitch at a time. There will be time for summations later."
Though parallels certainly exist between Wacha's rookie performances and what Lackey did in 2002, the simple fact is that they can also be considered opposites. Compared with Wacha, who was pitching for Texas A&M a year and a half ago, Lackey has started 233 regular-season games and 15 in October, plus another four combined appearances out of the bullpen. The odometer of his right arm stands at 2,162 2/3 innings, split among an assortment of fastballs, sliders -- he throws that one much more than he used to -- changeups and curves.
"Where John deserves all the credit is the way he reshaped his body," manager John Farrell said, referencing Lackey's Tommy John surgery of two years ago. "He's, I think, shown a different side of him this year. It had to start with his performance on the mound, which has been very consistent."
Lackey was cruising as usual -- he posted a 3.52 regular-season ERA -- until the seventh inning of Game 2, when he was pulled following a one-out walk and a hit. Both runners scored after Lackey exited, with reliever Craig Breslow on the mound.
Other than that inning, the Cardinals could barely touch Lackey, scraping out four other hits and a walk over six innings. Matt Holliday's leadoff triple in the fourth was the only other hit that damaged Lackey's stat line much, though it was enough given Boston's lack of offense against Wacha.
"The margin for error is really slim this time of year," Lackey said afterward.
The Red Sox know they must do more for Lackey in Game 6 than they did last week -- though not necessarily too much more. Lackey is 2-1 with a 3.26 ERA this month, including that scoreless relief inning in Game 4 -- a "creative" bit of tinkering, in Farrell's words, that should not affect Lackey in his preparations for Wednesday.
Simply put, Lackey is confident. The Red Sox are confident. So Boston must be confident, too.
"We played here pretty good this season," Lackey said of Fenway Park. "The atmosphere is going to be great. The fans are going to be crazy. But you've still got to focus on the task at hand and executing, and just still playing baseball. We're still one win away."